chinese contemporary art
Artists >> Wei Dong

While a great number of artists work in the Chinese traditional media of ink and colour on paper, none have taken it into the realm of the avant garde as has Wei Dong. Most painters of the avant garde turned to oil or acrylic on canvas, leaving behind their country's traditional technique. They had great respect for tradition but it was not for them. Artists still working in chinese ink and colour on paper, for the most part, remained outside the avant garde and continued the tradition of emulating old masters. Wei Dong explores through painting the space where heritage and modernity coexist. His works set up a dialogue, present a confrontation and explode a good number of conventions. In a disruption of tradition Wei Dong has taken this male dominated domain and subjected it to domination by women. Traditional Chinese landscape, created by male artists, containing male figures and for the male gaze, finds itself in Wei Dong's works as the backdrop, the stage setting, for the female figures which dominate the paintings and demand the viewers attention. Early works by the artist, such as Ming Landscape, 1996, were fabulously heretical creations where colourful and eccentric females invaded the traditional landscape, perched wherever possible among the mountains, claiming front of stage. Calcified tradition was usurped by a gleeful army of free spirits with a devil may care attitude. In later works the artist moved away from multiple female figures towards one dominant female figure in the foreground. Although the female figures settled on outcrops among the mountains were always out of proportion with the landscape, the single female figures are massive. Their power and presence reduces the background to a haunting memory. There is an odd cohabitation between the two. Tradition, pale and delicate. Modernity, bold and spirited.

In a new development Wei Dong has created series of works on paper called My Marilyn, Soft and Water. These are somewhat different from his other works. These works concentrate on a face, an expression and, in the case of Marilyn, an icon. They are painted with very few colours and the colours used are pale and delicate. They are more abstracted than the other works and, in fact, in the Soft series, the female form starts to disintegrate and becomes a landscape in itself producing a strong contrast between the traditional male landscape in greens and browns next to the abstract female landscape in flesh tones. In the Marilyn series, the abstracted technique helps create the impression of a memory, a vision that is no longer crystal clear but which is so powerful in our collective memory as to still hover in its essential characteristics. Here we find again Wei Dong's desire to remind one of reality but not to recreate it. Marilyn is an interesting subject for an artist with a penchant for painting powerful contemporary figures.

All the elements in Wei Dong's paintings come from his world, his life, his experiences and fantasies. The works capture the edginess of contemporary society and because of Wei Dong's past, growing up under communist China before its opening up to the rest of the world, they have an element of the surreal nature of contemporary Chinese society under assault by influences from all quarters. They also have the fresh and free vision of an outsider, an observer, one who can provoke new visions where others would only see the ordinary.